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It's time for Angels to find a quick fix
And you thought the Red Sox were the Titanic.
The S.S. Valentine is the QE2 compared to the S.S. Pujols, also known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Some of the Angels’ struggles are predictable; they began the season with ill-fitting parts in both their lineup and bullpen.
Some of the club’s problems also will auto-correct; Albert Pujols isn’t going to plod along with a .224 batting average, .596 OPS and zero homers, and many of his teammates also will improve to their previous career levels.
We get it. The season is not over. Panic rarely is a recommended course of action.
But the Angels, at 6-13, should not simply wait this out as they prepare to visit Cleveland this weekend (Saturday, MLB on Fox, 1:10 p.m. ET).
They failed to adequately upgrade their bullpen during the offseason, failed to resolve their surplus of first basemen, designated hitters and outfielders.
Now is the time.
Don’t tell me it’s early. It’s not early when you’re nine games out and chasing the best team in baseball — particularly under a new playoff format that rewards division champions and penalizes wild cards.
A wild card no longer is all that desirable, not when it results in a one-game playoff, followed — if you’re the lucky winner — by a best-of-five against the team with the league’s best overall record.
The Angels did not spend a combined $317.5 million on Pujols and free-agent left-hander C.J. Wilson to risk losing to one of the Rays’ hotshot starting pitchers or some other angry ace in a one-game knockout.
No, the goal was to beat the two-time defending league champion Rangers, not build the largest deficit of any team in the majors — and also trail the Mariners and Athletics by 3 1/2 games in the AL West, for heaven’s sake.
“Clearly we haven’t played well,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said Thursday night. “With the exception of the starting pitching, we’re not clicking on any cylinders.
“The rhythm and roles in the bullpen, the flow of the lineup, consistency of the lineup... we haven’t gotten anything going. It is April. But we’ve definitely dug ourselves a hole. We’ve got to find a way out.”
There are the things the Angels can do. There are things the Angels should do. Dipoto declined to discuss specific possibilities, but he should view the poor start as liberating, not debilitating.
My five-step plan:
Wait for Albert
Well, duh, it’s not as if the Angels have a choice — Pujols is theirs, to have and to hold, through 2021.
Pujols, 32, showed slippage the past three seasons, his OPS declining each year. But his slippage occurred from the heights of Mt. Olympus. It’s difficult to believe he’s suddenly cratering, even if he has gone 76 at-bats without a home run.
“Obviously this has been very unique for him,” Dipoto said. “I had a chance to see him early on last year. He was in a bit of a funk. That happens to all hitters. It hasn’t happened to Albert Pujols very often.
“But he’s been there. He’s done it. He knows how to get out. He’s incredibly intense, incredibly prepared. Right now, he’s showing he’s human and he’s pressing. That makes him one of 25 guys who are pressing.”
Promote Mike Trout
This one’s easy.
Trout, 20, is going off at Triple A Salt Lake City, batting .419/.483/.649 in 19 games — impressive even for the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos, meanwhile, is again regressing offensively, batting just .178/.229/.267.
Swap one for the other, inject Trout’s energy, allow Bourjos to regain his mojo at Salt Lake City. The Angels could bring him back later or trade him for pitching at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
The Nationals coveted Bourjos last offseason. So did the Rangers, but that’s the last thing the Angels need — another Mike Napoli, coming back to haunt them.
Play Mark Trumbo
Plan A was for Trumbo to get 400 to 500 plate appearances by starting 40 to 60 games at third base, spelling Pujols at first and Kendrys Morales at DH and playing the corner-outfield positions.
Not bad in theory, but Trumbo currently ranks first on the team in OPS and ninth in at-bats. Yeah, it’s early, but all those Angels fans who are freaking out over Scioscia’s lineups have a point: Trumbo needs to play.
Trumbo will make mistakes at third base, and his OBP last season was only .291. No matter. Play him at third, except when the Angels start their sole left-hander, C.J. Wilson. And put him somewhere else in those games.
Release Bobby Abreu
The Angels tried to trade Abreu to the Yankees, Indians and heaven knows who else, but rationalized keeping him due to the uncertain physical conditions of Trumbo and Morales entering spring training.
Trumbo and Morales are now fine, thank you very much. Abreu no longer is adequate offensively and long ago lost his defensive value. Put his roster spot to better use, and consider his $9 million salary as a sunk cost.
Can’t do the same — yet — with outfielder Vernon Wells, who at 33 is five years younger than Abreu and owed nearly $63 million over the next three seasons.
Fix the bullpen
This is the tough part.
The Angels are looking for relief help, rival officials say. But the chances of adding an impact reliever less than a month into the season are slim, in part because the likely sellers aren’t ready to move, in part because teams such as the Red Sox are also in the market.
Maybe Dipoto should just settle for the bullpen version of Marlon Byrd, if such a pitcher is even out there. The GM certainly can’t stand pat with a bullpen that already has suffered five losses.
A number of relievers figure to be available before the deadline — the Padres’ Huston Street, Mariners’ Brandon League, Astros’ Brett Myers, Athletics’ Grant Balfour and Pirates’ Joel Hanrahan, to name a few.
To acquire one of those pitchers now, the Angels likely would need to overpay. And at the moment, many of their pieces aren’t especially attractive.
The Athletics, for instance, have liked Alberto Callaspo in the past and need a third baseman. Callaspo will be expendable if the Angels start playing Trumbo more at third. But come the deadline, the A’s surely could do better for Balfour than Callaspo, who is 7-for-35 on the season — all singles — with two walks.
One rival executive says bullpens are relatively easy to fix; relievers are always in plentiful supply during trading season. The Rangers acquired three last summer — Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez. But the Angels have immediate issues.
Closer Jordan Walden had a hiccup Thursday, allowing a walkoff homer to the Rays’ Brandon Allen. Walden, after tying for the major-league lead with 10 blown saves as a rookie last season, is still a question. But not as big a question as the rest of the bullpen beyond lefty Scott Downs.
Better run production would give the ‘pen greater margin for error, and for now that might be the best solution.
Not that Dipoto can rest.
Not when the S.S. Pujols is heading for an iceberg.
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